BERNE – Personally, I'd like to see more great goaltenders in this tournament. Of course, Edgars Masalskis (Latvia) and Fabrice Lhenry (France) are playing very well. But in fairness, neither is a legendary name. Going through the list of the 2009 tournament's 30 goaltenders, I couldn't find a name we should keep in mind because they may rewrite the history books of the game we love.
In this tournament in Zurich-Kloten and Berne, a great goalie could singlehandedly win the gold medal for his team. But so far, some of the lesser teams have had the most impressive goaltending. Masalskis has won games versus Sweden and Switzerland for Latvia. Lhenry prevailed in France's battle with Germany, and the French made it to the second round for the first time since 1995.
Oh, it's a good time to be a goaltender. Better equipment is driving down goals-against averages and making the profession safer. And just as the equipment is bigger, so are the salaries. The goaltender has never been more respectcd than nowadays. Nobody is running the goalies anymore. A goal is disallowed if an attacking player blatantly violates the crease.
But where are those great goalies of the past? The Haseks, Dzurillas, Tretiaks, Holeceks, and Salos?
I think goaltending has become a little bit too easy. In the good old days (of course, they were better because we were younger), only a really crazy person could become a good goaltender. Imagine the horror among goalies when Bernie "Boom, Boom" Geoffrion invented the slapshot in the 1950s. The slapshot was fast. It could hurt you. It could fly through traffic and slam right into the goaltender's face.
In those days, the job market for goaltending was limited. Only in 1965-66, in the last days of the Original Six, did the NHL introduce the rule that two goalies must dress for each game. Meanwhile, the other showcase for a goalie was the IIHF World Championship with eight nations.
Twelve jobs in the NHL, eight at the World Championships.
Back then, an international starting goalie was a sports hero of his generation, and could dominate the Worlds for years. For instance, between 1971 and 1983, either Jiri Holecek or Vladislav Tretiak earned the Best Goalie award at eight out of 13 tournaments.
In the last 11 years, 11 different goalies have claimed that honour: Ari Sulander, Tommy Salo, Roman Cechmanek, Milan Hnilicka, Maxim Sokolov, Sean Burke, Ty Conklin, Tomas Vokoun, Johan Holmqvist, Kari Lehtonen, and Evgeni Nabokov.
This season, 89 goalies got a chance to play in the NHL. And at this World Championship, we have seen 30 goaltenders for 16 teams.
Canada's Chris Mason is statistically the best so far at this tournament, and he was able to backstop the St. Louis Blues into the Stanley Cup playoffs. But that's not the same thing as winning a Stanley Cup.
Has goaltending become too easy?
Well, being a goalie will never be easy. But it has become easier to get a job and a place in the spotlight.
I certainly respect the likes of Fabrice Lhenry, Edgar Masalskis, Chris Mason, and Ilya Bryzgalov.
But my feeling is that the goalies here in Berne and Zurich-Kloten don't stack up favourably against the all-time greats. Only time will tell.
Klaus Zaugg is a Swiss hockey journalist who has covered the IIHF World Championship since 1981. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.